I walked the fields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania many times while mapping the campaigns of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War. Studying the Civil War is my passion and to date, I wrote ten books because of it. The time that I devote to my studies of the Civil War, however; is limited by my “day” job as President of the College of Southern Maryland. This also restricts the time I can devote to nonprofit organizations. I felt compelled to make the time when the opportunity was presented to become a member of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) Board.
During battlefield visits, I am dismayed by the destruction of these sacred sites. Standing at the location of the mill race, now Kenwood Avenue in Fredericksburg, it is impossible to see the ground the men in blue traversed to ultimately be slaughtered before Marye’s Heights. The town of Fredericksburg has changed over the years, as the ever growing population engulfed those sacred grounds. The same is true at the Wilderness battlefield, where a housing development around Grant Lake has sprung up on the ground that saw very heavy fighting during May 5 and 6, 1864. On May 5, Henry Heth’s Division’s left flank valiantly held off charge after charge of an overwhelming number of Union troops. Gen. Wadsworth’s division traversed this ground on its journey to crush the Confederate defensive line on the early morning of May 6 and was the scene of heavy fighting as Longstreet’s men appeared later that morning. Many other troops thrashed their way through the thickets here. However, access to these sacred grounds is barred because of the private residences that dot the landscape.
The heroic efforts of the Civil War Trust and the Gettysburg Foundation are celebrated for preserving historic sites. Less well-known is the CVBT, which concentrates its efforts in preserving the Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville- Wilderness- Spotsylvania battlefields. It is a big job as the population of Fredericksburg and its surrounding counties has increased 120 percent since 1970, four times the rate of growth of the rest of Virginia. The organization can count many successes over the years, including the preservation of over 1,000 acres of sacred land. They not only preserve the land itself but also act as advocates for battlefield preservation in general.
While the relationship between the Gettysburg Foundation and the rangers at the Gettysburg National Military Park are renowned and applauded, the relationship between the CVBT and the personnel at the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park complexes is equally strong. The synergy has helped strengthen both entities.
For me, writing a check is not enough. I need to give back to those men who made the ultimate sacrifice by contributing my time and knowledge. That’s one of the reasons I write books and why I have decided to join a committed band of individuals who have such a passion for our nation’s heritage. There is much more work to be done and it is my hope that more people will lend their support to this outstanding organization. Please take a moment to visit the CVBT website (http://www.cvbt.org).
I always look forward to Gettysburg’s Sacred Trust program. I usually am asked to give a presentation on Gettysburg, and then I sign books for awhile. This year was a bit different, as they had plenty of speakers, so I just signed book for awhile on July 4. I met some great people from all over the U.S. They all had one thing in common– a passion for Gettysburg. I am always so pleased to learn that many people carry my Maps of Gettysburg around the battlefield. One visitor also mentioned that a ranger at the Antietam battlefield was carrying around my book during a tour. That’s why I am writing these books. Not only do I learn so much about a campaign, I am able to share my new insights with others. Few Civil War historians make a ton of money on their projects– they do it for the passion to learn and to share.
What I found so odd this year was that the vast majority of presentations (21 out 26) were not on Gettysburg. I may be wrong, but I think most people go to Gettysburg to learn about Gettysburg and the same is true of Sacred Trust. Check out the list of presentations: http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/149/sacred-trust-event-schedule
What do you think? Am I wrong?
Every year, the Gettysburg Foundation hosts a series of speakers on Gettysburg. They put up a big tent behind the Visitors Center and lots of chairs. I was surprised to see so many of them occupied when I gave my talk, because it was at the end of the day (July 6, 2013). It is a free event and is coming up again this year.
To see me talk about the best and worst generals of Gettysburg, check out this link: http://vimeo.com/72363918. Go to my Resources link to see the entire list of speakers and their videos.
I will add my list of the best and worst generals here in a couple of days.
As many readers of Civil War history know, I have been devoting my time to preparing map books of the major campaigns of the Eastern Theater. The Maps of Gettysburg was the first book in the series, followed by books on First Bull Run, Antietam, and Bristoe Station/Mine Run.
I am now completing a book on the Wilderness Campaign. It will contain 118 full-color maps and accompanying text and is being readied to head over to the publisher. This was a very tough campaign to map. Everyone who reads about the Civil War will roll their eyes when they hear about the Wilderness Campaign. Fighting in dense thickets does not lend itself to clarity and I certainly found that out.
Despite the confusion, I believe that I have crafted a book that will really help the reader sort out what happened in those thickets. I certainly have a better sense of it. When I walk around Saunders Field and the Tapp Farm, I have an enhanced appreciation of what these young men had to endure. Sections of the battlefield still contain some thick vegetation, so you can get a sense of what it was like back in May, 1864.
It was a fight where Lee and his ill-regarded lieutenants, Richard Ewell and A. P. Hill, did fairly well. It was fascinating to piece together what seemed to be complete victory by Winfield Hancock’s troops on the morning of May 6, but then transitioned to wholesale defeat just a few hours later, and to see how Lee’s reactions changed from panic to euphoria during this time.
I am not sure when the book will be published, but I am hoping it will be in the fall of 2014.
Well, my publisher said, “Get a website or blog,” so here it is. I will try to keep it up to date with interesting things I have learned and will update you on my current projects. I hope that you will provide feedback.